Republican National Committee Chairman candidate Michael S. Steele castigated Republican Party leadership Tuesday for having a “country club” mentality and being out of touch, and said if he is chosen to represent the party, he will help transform it into an inspiring choice for young and minority voters.
“Let´s just be very frank about it. What the party´s got to do is get its head out of the clouds and out of the sand and recognize that the dynamics politically and otherwise around them have changed,” said Mr. Steele, in an interview with reporters and editors at The Washington Times.
“The coalitions … are very different from what they were 25 years ago,” he said.
Mr. Steele, 50, who in 2002 became the first black lieutenant governor of Maryland, talked at length about how the Republican Party can recover from an election in which Democratic President-elect Barack Obama won traditionally conservative states, such as Virginia and Indiana, largely because he drew huge numbers of first-time voters to the polls.
Mr. Steele blasted the Republican Party’s lackluster effort in recruiting those same new voters, especially minorities.
“The problem is that within the operations of the RNC, they don’t give a damn. It’s all about outreach … and outreach means let’s throw a cocktail party, find some black folks and Hispanics and women, wrap our arms around them - ‘See, look at us,’ ” he said.
“And then we go back to same old, same old. There’s nothing that is driven down to the state party level, where state chairmen across the country, to the extent they don’t appreciate it, are helped to appreciate the importance of African-Americans and women and others coming and being a part of this party, and to the extent that they do appreciate it, are given support and backup to generate their own programs to create this relationship.”
“Outreach is a cocktail party. Coalitions … a relationship. I’m going to look you in the eye. I’m going to be at your table. I’m going to sit and talk to you,” said Mr. Steele, who has for the last two years been the chairman of GOPAC, a Republican political action committee.
Mr. Steele said if he gets the RNC job, he expects the press to ridicule it as a race-based attempt to piggyback on the election of Mr. Obama, the nation’s first black president.
“If I’m elected chairman … many in the media will dismiss it as tokenism by the Republican Party, trying to play their form of the race card … and it will speak to a general disrespect they have of guys like me,” said Mr. Steele, whose run for the U.S. Senate seat from Maryland in 2006 drew Mr. Obama into the state twice to campaign against him.
Mr. Steele said that during the 2006 election, he and two other black Republican candidates for statewide office - former football star Lynn Swann for Pennsylvania governor and former Ohio state Treasurer Ken Blackwell for governor there - were called “lawn jockeys” for the Republican Party.
Nonetheless, Mr. Steele had praise for the people who have surfaced as Mr. Obama’s first two likely Cabinet choices: former Clinton administration Deputy Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat.
He called Mr. Holder, who was reported Tuesday to have been chosen for attorney general, “a good man … a smart man.”
“I always found Eric Holder to be his own man, a principled individual, and he will, like Hillary, be a very good choice for the job he’s being chosen to do,” said Mr. Steele, speaking of reports that Mrs. Clinton will be named secretary of state.
Michael Steele Interview Part 2:
Mr. Steele also talked at length about how the Republican Party has been left “standing still” by the Democrats and by Mr. Obama when it comes to the use of technology and outreach to young and minority voters.
The RNC candidate said that Mr. Obama, with his unprecedented coalition of new voters, “is already laying down the seeds for his re-election.”
“He wants this cadre of young people, 18 to29 or 30 years old, to be with him through thick and thin. He wants to be able to sic them on his opposition, and he wants them to back him up when he needs defenses.”
A father of two college-age sons, Mr. Steele said he wants to take what Mr. Obama has done with his use of technology and outreach to young voters and improve on it.
Mr. Steele said he is the only candidate for RNC chairman who has a national profile and can also get the Republican Party to do a better job of organizing at the state level in a way that attracts and advances good candidates into national office, and that builds relationships with minority voters.
The 168-member RNC will elect a national chairman in January at its annual winter meeting in Washington.
Top contenders are Robert M. “Mike” Duncan, 57, the current national chairman; Katon Dawson, 52, the South Carolina Republican Party chairman and an auto-parts distributor; Saul Anuzis, 49, the Michigan Republican Party chairman, who founded and owns a company that provides voice over Internet protocol service; Tina Benkiser, 46, a Houston lawyer and the chairman of the Texas Republican Party since 2003; Jim Greer, 46, the Florida Republican Party chairman and an associate of Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, a potential 2012 Republican presidential-nomination contender.
Mr. Dawson said it was not up to him to say if Mr. Steele is up to being the public face of the national party as well as the chief fundraiser.
“Michael is a friend, and it is up to the 167 other members of the committee to decide who can [run] the internal operations of the party,” he said, adding that there is not going to be “a single face of the Republican Party,” but rather many capable people able to speak on behalf of the Republican Party.
Some Republicans have raised questions about Mr. Steele’s alliances. He acknowledges being on the board of the centrist, pro-choice Republican Leadership Council, along with former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman and former Missouri Sen. John Danforth.
In 2006 Mr. Steele, Mr. Danforth and Mrs. Whitman revived the RLC.
A year before, Mr. Danforth wrote in a New York Times opinion piece that “Republicans have transformed our party into the political arm of conservative Christians,” adding that the “problem is not with people or churches that are politically active. It is with a party that has gone so far in adopting a sectarian agenda that it has become the political extension of a religious movement.”
Mr. Danforth is an ordained Episcopal minister who shepherded Clarence Thomas through the 1991 Supreme Court nomination process for President George H.W. Bush. Mrs. Whitman constantly has tangled with social and religious conservatives within the Republican Party.
Mr. Steele told The Times that he does not think religious and social conservatives have too much influence in the Republican Party.
Mr. Steele also said as national chairman he would work to keep in the party’s platform the call for a constitutional ban on abortion, but that he shares with other prominent limited-government conservatives a skepticism about opening the Constitution to the process of making changes that may get out of control.
But he said he would like to see the Supreme Court overturn the landmark 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision, which legalized abortion nationally. Almost all religious conservatives regard the federal constitutional protection of the unborn as a moral obligation.
He also said he has high regards for Club for Growth President Pat Toomey, a former Republican congressman from Pennsylvania, and does not see him or the club as representing the “extreme, far right.” Critics of Mr. Steele have said he has made disparaging remarks about both Mr. Toomey and the club.
Mr. Steele did acknowledge, however, that he disagrees with the club’s practice of endorsing candidates in primary contests. He said he also disagrees with the RLC’s endorsing in primaries.